All Saints’ Day (observed) (November 4, 2007)
“Identity Crisis” (1 John 3:1-3)
In the name of Jesus, beloved children of God.
Each time we observe All Saints’ Day, it’s as if we are pulling the curtain of this life back and taking a peek into the sanctuary of heaven. We listen to a portion of St. John’s Revelation, and we see “a great multitude that no one could number ... standing before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.” (Rev. 7:9) These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, meaning this earthly life with all its sins and struggles and stresses. They stand in the very presence and glory of God because “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14) They are holy ones. Saints.
We also hear the Beatitudes from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. There he describes the blessedness of the saints in heaven and at the final resurrection. They may have been persecuted in this life because of their confession of faith in Christ. Now they are comforted and satisfied. They see God. They are called sons of God.
The reading I want to focus on today is the Epistle lesson, St. John’s inspired words from 1 John 3:1-3. Here the Apostle reveals our true identity as dearly loved children of God, as “saints,” holy ones, those forgiven in Christ and who have a blessed future awaiting them.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
That’s our identity. Dearly loved children of God. I’m afraid, however, that it’s very easy to forget that. We have an identity crisis.
IDENTITY CRISIS (NEGATIVE JUDGMENT)
Now, I’m 42 years old. I suppose you could call me a middle-aged man. The expectation in our modern world is that men have what they call a “mid-life crisis,” which is an identity crisis of sorts. A man looks at his life and asks, “Have I met certain goals?” ... “Has my life been fulfilling up to this point?” ... “Am I still as handsome as I think I am?” Maybe I’m not asking these questions because I’m too busy being an older dad to my first child, and my identity is wrapped up now in being a husband to my wife and a father to a two-year old. Besides that, I wouldn’t know how to start having a mid-life crisis even if I wanted to have one! I can’t afford to buy a fancy convertible sports car or a Harley Davidson. I can’t afford to get plugs for my receding hair line. And the woman to whom I am happily married won’t let me go bar hopping. Don’t worry, dear. That’s not on the agenda.
Do women have mid-life crises? I suppose some do. I don’t know what form they take. But I suppose there is a measure of identity crises among women, also, in mid-life ... not to mention other times, such as when some younger women suffer from post-partum depression.
When parents see their children move out, they have an identity crisis called “empty nest syndrome.” Their identity used to be wrapped up in meeting the needs of their children. Now, it’s the just two of them. They need to reevaluate their marriage and their identities as husband and wife.
The word “crisis” comes from a Greek word that means “judgment.” When the world looks at us Christians, there is an identity crisis of sorts. The world looks at us, judges us, and says, “Those Christians are no different than anybody else.” In our text, St. John says, “the world does not know us.” We look like everyone else in the world. We don’t look different. We don’t walk around in white robes and carry palm branches. If we did, we’d look like a bunch of kooky cult members. We don’t talk all that different than everyone else. Sure, sometimes we put a bit of God-talk in our conversations. Other times our language is rough and not distinguishable from those who don’t know Christ as Savior.
The world doesn’t know us, and we don’t know ourselves. Each of us struggles with our sinful nature. This struggle causes us to doubt our salvation. We face our own identity crisis. You ask yourself the question, “How can I truly be a beloved child of God when I know the ‘real me’?”
IDENTITY CRISIS (POSITIVE JUDGMENT)
As I said before, the word “crisis” can mean “judgment.” That judgment can be a positive judgment, too. For example, in John 7:24, Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” ... or we might say “righteous judgment.” Our loving God has judged us with righteous judgment in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t judge by appearances. He doesn’t look at us as the world looks at us. He doesn’t look at ourselves as we look at ourselves, when we know our own sin all too well and doubt our salvation. Our loving God judges us in Christ. Our sin and guilt were placed upon him at the cross. In Baptism and by faith, Christ’s righteous life and innocence is placed upon us. God judges us to be righteous and holy. We are justified. We are given a new identity. We are called “saints.” Still sinners, but saints at the same time, forgiven through the shed blood of the Lamb.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” That IS what you are, in spite of appearances, in spite of how you feel. You are a child of God. God has declared it. Therefore, being a child of God is the REAL YOU. In Christ, you are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17) You have been given a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24)
St. John goes on to say, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
“What we will be” is what John saw in his vision in Revelation. “What we will be” is what Jesus described in the Beatitudes. You and I are a far cry from those descriptions. Our status as children of God ... our identity as saints ... is hidden to the world. Right now, we are like uncut diamonds ... rough, unpolished, looking simply like big pieces of thick glass. When we were brought to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit began the process of cutting us and shaping us into the people God wants us to be ...taking off a hard edge here ... smoothing out a facet there ... polishing the surface so that you “shine like stars in the universe,” as St. Paul says in Philippians 2:15. But that whole process will not be complete until the day when Jesus returns. On that day, those who have died in the faith will rise to life again. Those who are left will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. (1 Cor. 15:52)
“We shall be like him,” St. John declares. We will be like Jesus, “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21) Resurrected. Immortal. Glorious. Never to die again. Without sin. Without sorrow. Without suffering.
“We shall see him as he is.” Psalm 17:15 says, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” Jesus speaks of “the pure in heart” who “shall see God.” On that day when our sinful natures have been done away with forever, then we will be those who are “pure in heart.” And we will look into the very face of God.
The world doesn’t recognize our identity as children of God because the world does not know God. Unbelievers do not understand true spiritual matters. (1 Cor. 2:14) To them, members of God’s Holy Church are no different than anyone else.
You and I forget about our own identity as children of God because our hearts condemn us. Even while others pat us on the back, we know all too well the sin that lurks deep inside us. That’s why St. John says a few verses after our text, “whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20) God knows you better than you know yourself. In Christ, God sees you as holy and righteous in his sight. He knows the “real you” which his Spirit created within you. You and I are still looking at a poor reflection. We don’t see the whole picture yet. Here’s how St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
The last line of our text says, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” As we await the day when our status as children of God and saints will be publicly revealed to the world, we are called to lead holy lives. As God’s children, beloved, forgiven, fully known by him, it is an honor and privilege to live as God’s children, to throw off every sin that would trip us up and weigh us down as we run the race marked out for us. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us. These are the saints who have gone before us and have already run the race. They are like those athletes that young kids try to emulate. Ever watch a Little League baseball game? Every batter comes up to the plate and goes through the same motions and stands just like his favorite player. In the same way, we can emulate the faith and life of those saints who have gone before us ... living a holy life in response to the forgiveness earned for us at the cross, in response to such great love that God has poured out upon us, in response to the hope of eternal life and the resurrection which he instills in us. Amen.